Poet Emma Lazarus’ heart-felt words inscribed near the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses …” seem rather empty in view of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. But Americans have never wholeheartedly welcomed immigrants anyway.

Historically we have encouraged immigrants only when we needed them, and grudgingly even then: British and Germans to farm the Midwest, Irish for low-skilled construction jobs, to clean the houses of the wealthy and to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War, Scandinavians to farm the more northern and colder states, Italians and eastern Europeans to mine the coal and iron ore and work the steel mills of Pennsylvania, Jews for the garment industry, and Chinese to build the western railroads. I didn’t mention Africans to work the southern plantations since they weren’t exactly immigrants in the truest sense.

Throughout our history we have tended to favor immigrants who look and worship more like the original American settlers; more British and German Protestants and less Irish and southern and eastern European Catholics, Latin Americans and Asians. During the mid-nineteenth century Irish immigration was even rumored to have been a conspiracy by the Pope to Catholicize America. Sound far-fetched? Google up “The American Know-Nothing Party” and see for yourselves.

By the third generation immigrants have usually become less bound to the old countries and cultures and more Americanized. And by then they are usually accepted as such. But this is not the case in Europe and is probably the cause of much of the current ethnic unrest there. But American feelings toward recent immigrants are not always welcoming either and President Trump has been playing these suspicions, resentments and prejudices for all they are worth politically.

Trump is right in this: most illegal drugs come into the U.S. through Mexico. But he failed to add that they do not enter by the same route as illegal immigrants. Most drugs are ingeniously concealed in legal shipments aboard tractor-trailer rigs or hidden away in passenger automobiles. Just ask yourselves, would drug dealers entrust their valuable cargoes to poor people fleeing hunger and poverty?

Trump claims high crime rates for immigrants crossing our southern borders. But immigration records show that relatively few illegal border crossers have criminal records back home. And once they get here their crime rate is less than half that for native-born perpetrators. These statistics are based on FBI crime and incarceration data for California and Texas, the states with the highest non-white immigrant populations.

Although it would be presumptive to suggest a causal relationship here, between 1990 and 2013 the U.S. foreign-born population grew from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent, a 65 percent increase. At the same time the number of illegal immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. But during this same period FBI records indicate that the U.S. violent crime rate declined by 48 percent and property crime by 41 percent. Does this mean that to further lower the crime rate maybe we should adopt a policy of open borders as Trump falsely accuses the Democrats of favoring anyway? That would certainly fit in with some of his other convoluted thinking.

George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at reed1600@bellsouth.net.

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